Thursday, June 19, 2008

Logroño, Spain

Friends: As in the western US, where on occasion cyclists are allowed on the Interstate highway for short stretches when there is no alternative route, Spain too seems to permit cyclists on their Autovistas. I've had to resort to the superhighways several times here and have yet to be taken to task, not that I feared a chat with the local constables, the Guardia Civil.

More often than not, I end up having some sort of tete-a-tete with a country´s law enforcement authorities, and whether it is to be reprimanded as in Germany or to have my hand shook as in Argentina or to be asked what in the hell I´m doing as in Israel or to be set on the right road as in Finland, they are never unpleasant occurrences. I feel no sense of alarm when I'm pulled over by the cops when I'm on my bicycle, even if it is with guns drawn as happened once in a northern suburb of Chicago. Someone who had just robbed a nearby jewelry store had fled by bicycle.

The first time I risked intruding upon the Autovista and a meeting with the Guardia Civil came when I was heading south out of Benoventa. There seemed no alternative than a couple mile stretch on the superhighway to connect to the road heading east I was trying to get to. Before my incursion I paused to eat and rest so I'd be fresh for an all-out effort to make the ride as quick as possible. I was slightly encouraged that I needn't fear as, unlike other Autovista entrances, there was not the usual sign depicting a cyclist, a pedestrian, a horse and a tractor, each with a slash through them, though there was no sign giving cyclists or others an OK, as in the US.

There was a nice wide shoulder with minimal debris and a steady stream of 18-wheelers giving me a helpful draft. I hadn't even been on the Autovista a mile when a spotted a can of WD-40, a sign that I belonged and a veritable gift from my biking guardian angel, who ever seems to be looking out for me. I had been searching for some WD-40 ever since my rear derailleur had balked at dropping my chain from the 34-tooth ring on my freewheel to the 24. My Phil Wood Tenacious Oil hadn't succeeded in loosening whatever crud had penetrated making it less responsive than usual. WD-40 in the past has instantly solved the problem.

I had found a small bottle of WD-40 at a hypermarket, but at three euros (almost five dollars), that was more than I was prepared to pay. I was willing to wait until France, hoping to find it more reasonably priced. Some things are cheaper in Spain (such as dairy products) and some more expensive, such as peanut butter. A small jar goes for four euros, a euro more than in France, still more than what my budget will allow. So far I have been happy to just sprinkle some nuts on a gob of honey spread on a piece of bread for a super-duper crunchy open face peanut sandwich.

I shouldn't have been overly surprised at finding the WD-40, as time and again the road has offered up something I was in need of, though not any peanut butter yet. I should have remembered that maxim, "Ask and ye shall receive." I've come upon bottles of water when I was running perilously low out in the middle of nowhere and toilet paper when I was down to my last few tissues and a pen when my last one had run dry and paper when I thought I might have to buy some. I regularly find money, but never enough for a splurge, though sometimes of a bill large enough to cover some unexpected expenditure.

I was forced onto the Autovista a second time when I was trying to get to Lerma. This time I was in a small town and wasn't entirely sure which direction to go and had to ask. I was told it was via the Autovista. I asked if bicycles were allowed on the Autovista and was assured, without hesitance, that they were permitted. When I expressed a bit of surprise, the guy wondered if I was frightened about riding on the highway and that I needn't be as there was a good wide shoulder.

Though I didn't need to ride the Autovista anywhere along the main Camino de Santiago, I was very grateful for the one that paralleled it for many miles, as it siphoned off about 99% of the traffic. The old two-lane highway, that was formerly the main road up until a couple of years ago, had been rendered a virtual bicycle path, making for very blissful, carefree cycling. Much of my Spanish cycling has been as sensational as any I've encountered. I just completed a 120-mile stretch on back roads from Baltanas through Olmedilo de Roa, Villafruela, Lerma, Santo Domingo de Silos, Sales de los Infantes, and Villavelayo to Najera that was absolutely fabulous. It began up on a wide open high plain with dazzling vistas, then descended into a tight narrow gorge, that led to a large dam-made lake for miles of coastal riding, then another plunged through a long canyon. I had no warning how spectacular it would be. The roads were just a series of squiggles on my map taking me back to France.

Before one stretch I was warned the road was very narrow and windy, "poco peligroso" (dangerous), but also very "bonito" (pretty). There were just a handful of small towns, some seemingly abandoned with their picturesque cathedrals badly in need of repair. The only hazard were the sheep nibbling at the road´s edge. If spooked, they were as liable to dart out into the road as off into the fields. All it took was for one to go haywire and it would set off a pinball scramble of sheep darting in all directions. So I´d slow dramatically, and try to slip by without causing too much chaos.

With it so sparsely settled I was fortunate to find one town large enough for a grocery store, so I didn't have to exhaust my supply of nuts and bread and honey and Nutella. The dam was a towering monster from one side of a canyon to the other. Its waters had swallowed up four villages. It was begun in 1935, just as the Spanish revolution was breaking out, delaying its completion until 1960. For miles the road wound around many fjord-like arms of the lake extending into side canyons.

The cycling was so superlative that it constantly triggered deep, trance-like reveries of trips past. I was lost in Bolivia I know not how long on one reverie, biking through a canyon similar to the one that climbed out of the Amazon River Basin to the yampas and the World´s Most Dangerous Road. When my thought returned to the present it took several frantic moments to recall where I was. No need for peyote or acid on roads such as these.

Later, George

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